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New book offers alternative view of Norfolk’s Seahenge

PUBLISHED: 13:56 25 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:11 25 July 2020

Buster Nolan plays his didgeridoo as the archaeologists continue to excavate the sandbagged site on Holme beach in May, 1999  Picture: John Hocknell

Buster Nolan plays his didgeridoo as the archaeologists continue to excavate the sandbagged site on Holme beach in May, 1999 Picture: John Hocknell

Two decades after it was plucked from the peat to be preserved for posterity, its purpose remains unknown.

Buster Nolan has written a book giving an alternative view of Norfolk's Seahenge  Picture: Chris BishopBuster Nolan has written a book giving an alternative view of Norfolk's Seahenge Picture: Chris Bishop

Now a new book offers an alternative view of one of the 20th Century’s greatest archaeological discoveries - Norfolk’s Seahenge.

When archaeologists began to excavate the 4,500-year-old timber circle from the beach at Holme, near Hunstanton, they were met with protests.

Druids, pagans and some villagers believed the ancient relic should be left where it was.

Twenty years after joining protestors on the beach, Buster Nolan has told their side of the story In Seahenge, the Upside Down Tree Circle.

Buster  Nolan  and project manager Dr Bill Boismeyer come face to face at Seahenge Picture: Brian WaiteBuster Nolan and project manager Dr Bill Boismeyer come face to face at Seahenge Picture: Brian Waite

“I thought we’d commemorate an alternative history,” said Mr Nolan. “The book’s about what we discovered as the defenders of Seahenge. Our experience was very different to English Heritage and all the archaeologists.”

Mr Nolan, now 71, travelled from his home in Great Bardfield in Essex to Holme when excavations began in the spring of 1999.

He met a friend who was also on his way to Seahenge in Hunstanton.

“I noticed a figure in the car behind us, then they started waving madly,” he said. “I was startled as I did not know anyone from the town.

Seahenge  at low tide before its excavation  Picture:  John HocknellSeahenge at low tide before its excavation Picture: John Hocknell

“Hello Buster, roared a familiar voice and out of the car jumped Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Avalon, holding a bag of chips.”

Mr Nolan and fellow protestors waded out and occupied the circle as excavations began. Police intervened as feelings ran high.

The tussle over the ancient timbers even had its day in the high court, after summonses were handed out on the beach.

“We had no lawyers, no knowledge of correct court procedure, so we just sat there getting more and more angry,” said Mr Nolan.

Archaeologists haul a timber out of the beach at Holme  Picture: John HocknellArchaeologists haul a timber out of the beach at Holme Picture: John Hocknell

The judge was presented with a stream of documents including photographs of Mr Nolan and others on the beach.

“When we arrived in court we came only with the honesty of our case and the contents of our pockets,” said Mr Nolan. “English Heritage came with a top London firm of barristers.”

The court granted an injunction. They were warned if they set foot in the circle again they could be jailed.

Despite fears excavating the ring and its upturned oak would destroy the circle’s mystic powers, the tree stump was unceremoniously hauled from the mud by a digger and carted away to be studied, to jeers and the hum of a didgeridoo.

Work under way at the dig  Picture: John HocknellWork under way at the dig Picture: John Hocknell

Mr Nolan, who describes himself as “a warrior, poet, teacher and defender of the natural world’s ancient wisdoms” refers to the scientists who led the dig as “orcs” and “orcheologists”.

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“They were covered in slime, running feverishly about with pumps and shovels, trying to dam out the sea, trying to wrestle posts from the ring, trying to dig up and smash the circle,” he writes.

“Every time Seahenge surfaced, English Heritage had a spokesperson whose job it was to explain to the public what the circle was according to them.

It's all over - the central stump of Seahenge is removed on July 16, 1999 Picture: John HocknellIt's all over - the central stump of Seahenge is removed on July 16, 1999 Picture: John Hocknell

“It was first built on dry land and the sea covered it. Next time it was built on a swamp, it was rotten and the only way to save it for future generations was to dig it up.”

Using dendrochronology - the science of dating timbers by studying tree rings - scientists found the timbers were 4,500 years old.

Multiple axe marks showed many people had been involved in building the circle, which in turn showed Bronze Age society was more advanced than had previously been believed.

The timbers were preserved using the same process as the restoration of Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose, after it was recovered from the Solent in 1982.

The Seahenge exhibition at the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. Pictured looking at the great central stump is curatorial assistant Dayna Woolbright. Picture: Ian BurtThe Seahenge exhibition at the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. Pictured looking at the great central stump is curatorial assistant Dayna Woolbright. Picture: Ian Burt

But the purpose of the circle remains conjecture, with some believing it was used in ancient death rites, with the departed laid on the stump to break down.

Mr Nolan believes one explanation for the 55 oak posts is that drawing lines to join them up creates a pentagram.

He wonders whether the egg-shaped circle could have represented an egg, while the tree stump would stir the amniotic fluid - sea water - by creating a vortex in the tide and generating energy.

“In the time before time people lived in a different world,” he adds. “They all followed the path of 13 moons. This was the length of one full year.

Buster Nolan at Seahenge in June 1999  Picture: ArchantBuster Nolan at Seahenge in June 1999 Picture: Archant

“In Seahenge the number of trees in the circle is 55, This is the length of time it takes for 13 moons to come and go.

“They were merely following the powers of the 13 moons as they had always done since the beginning. Moon followed moon in an annual dance that went on forever.

“Each moon had its own unique power to influence what happened on Mother Earth.”

Mr Nolan believes the circle’s upturned stump could have been planted to create a vortex to harness energy.

In his epilogue, he says ecosystems are failing as rivers dry up, trees are dying and the soil is failing.

“We stand once again where our ancestors stood, facing disaster” he adds. “We desperately need a new perspective, a new way, a new understanding of our relationship with what we call Planet Earth.”

Seahenge - the Upside Down Tree Circle can be ordered via talkingtrees@hotmail.co.uk.


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